The Joker’s Ex-Girlfriend has moved on and grown, and so has her story.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)
Having beaten the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and with Batman (Diedrich Bader) and the Justice League out of the way, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is now poised to take over the city of Gotham. Unfortunately, Gotham is quickly declared No Man’s Land, and it turns out that the Injustice League wants it too. They get the drop on Harley and divvy up the territory. With the help of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), Clayface (Tudyk), and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), she’s out to get revenge on the Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Two-Face (Jim Rash, Wayne Knight, Alfred Molina, James Adomian, Andy Daly) and claim Gotham for herself. Also, Batgirl’s there (Briana Cuoco).
So, my main criticism of Harley Quinn Season 1 was that the show often tried to go a little too exploitative with the violence and swearing to the point that I thought it distracted from the show. I will admit that, on rewatching, it still was a little over-the-top, but I might have let my feelings towards DC Universe’s show Titans color my opinion on how they were handling “mature” superhero shows. It still bothered me when I watched it again, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought on the first go-around. Whatever problems there were, however, have been almost completely fixed in the second season.
It’s not that the show is any less exploitative in the second season, in fact the violence and swearing are probably even increased, but the show has started to use them as a form of self-commentary. Harley even says, while defending a show-within-a-show, that “violence ups the dramatic effect,” and honestly, this season that’s mostly what it did. In the way that the John Wick films manage to make killing hordes of people into slapstick routine, season two frequently makes violence cathartic or humorous.
Moreover, the subject matter of this season was almost uniformly made more mature and relatable. While I thought that the first season forced the plot of Harley getting over the Joker to last longer than it should have which killed the relatability of dealing with an abusive ex, this season covers a number of plots that interweave and keep the relationships and topics fresh. They range from having feelings for a friend, to dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy, to dealing with repressed emotions and trauma. Instead of being a simple set of plots with a lot of swearing and ‘splosions, it’s a lot of blood and cussing that heightens the emotions of the scenes. It’s everything I wanted out of this series, and it feels so damned good.
If you have a chance to check it out, do it. The first season is pretty good in retrospect, but this season should earn it a following.
I got a request for a Halloween episode of BoJack and I cannot resist going into it.
Taking place in a world populated by humans and anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman is a show about an equine equity actor named BoJack (Will Arnett) who had a popular, but critically panned, show from the late 80s through the 90s. In this season, he is having a career resurgence on a new detective series. His closest companions are his feline ex-girlfriend and ex-manager Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his ex-roommate Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), his ex-ghostwriter Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and his rival and Diane’s ex-husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). BoJack is an alcoholic and chronically depressed in addition to a host of other vices. In the episodes leading up to this, BoJack had developed an opioid habit after sustaining a back injury, had started sleeping with his current TV co-star, and had just discovered that Diane knows that he almost slept with the daughter of a former flame.
This episode takes place over the course of 4 separate Halloween parties in 1993, 2004, 2009, and 2018. It turns out that in 1993, Mr. Peanutbutter mistook BoJack blowing him off as an invitation to host a Halloween party. So, he invited himself, all his friends, and his first wife Katrina (Lake Bell) over to BoJack’s house. Each of the Halloweens features Mr. Peanutbutter bringing a different wife/girlfriend (or his “Boo”) to the party. In 1993, he took his then-loving first wife Katrina; In 2004, he takes his second wife Jessica Biel; In 2009, he takes his then-girlfriend Diane; and in 2018, he takes his girlfriend Pickles Aplenty (Hong Chau), and yes that’s her real name.
At each of the parties, Mr. Peanutbutter screws up somehow, resulting in him causing a rift in his relationship. In 1993, it’s that he keeps abandoning Katrina to talk to other people against her request, resulting in her talking to Ben Stein and Tim Allen and becoming an adulterous and cruel ultra-conservative. In 2004, he fails to protect Jessica Biel from seeing a mummy, reminding her that she didn’t get the part in the Brendan Fraser movie (she auditioned for the role of the mummy). In 2009, he pressures Diane into going to the party even though she hates parties. In 2018, he talks about his exes to Pickles, including Diane, who is at the party. He realizes that all of the women he dates start out happy and fun, then end up being bitter and mean. Diane tells him that it’s because he keeps dating women in their 20s, while he’s now in his late 40s. They don’t change because of him, they just outgrow him. After Diane consoles Pickles and tells her that Mr. Peanutbutter does always love every woman he’s with, including her. She then reminds him that she’s so much younger than him by saying they’re gonna party more.
So, this episode definitely is something that has to be watched and re-watched to really make complete sense, because they constantly cut between the time periods to draw parallels between the stories. In a brilliant stroke, however, you can almost always recognize what year it is in any scene by what costumes people are wearing. The costumes are probably the best part of the episode, but more on that later.
One of the major themes throughout the show, and one that BoJack himself had recently elaborated on, is that there are no such things as happy endings. That’s because everyone in the show is so caught up in Hollywood (or Hollywoo as it is called in the show) that it tends to blur their reality and, in TV sitcoms, there can’t be happy endings. Because, if everyone’s happy, there’s nothing to watch. BoJack’s inability to ever improve himself in any meaningful way is tied to the fact that he is a sitcom character. However, this episode shows us that Mr. Peanutbutter suffers from the same futility of change, but in a different way. He can’t grow up, something that does NOT affect the women in his life. In each party, Mr. Peanutbutter acts essentially the same, even though it’s over a 25 year period, and each party ends essentially the same. The same is true for BoJack and Princess Carolyn. This is possibly the scariest theme in any of the things I’m going to go over this Halloween: That no one can ever really change for the better. All change is only temporary, because the show must go on, and we’re all the characters that have to become simpler over time so that the grand audience can follow it more easily. We’re leads in our own story, but that means we can’t ever be more than we are when we finally are being observed.
Note: I don’t believe the above, but the idea that maybe it’s true horrifies me.
What makes it worse is that we know how Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationships are going to go because we’ve seen what they’re like in other flashbacks in the show. Katrina will become abusive to him, but will say it’s because he never listens to her, the thing that he promises to do in this episode. Jessica Biel will become obsessed with her own fame, even claiming success from movies like Stealth, possibly because Mr. Peanutbutter can’t stop her from being reminded of her failures like he did in this episode. There’s an entire episode about a fight that occurs between him and Diane because he hosts a surprise party for her, even though he tells her that he won’t ever force her into another party. He never learns to listen to others, no matter how much he loves those other people.
The only other major revelation in the episode is that Todd only became BoJack’s roommate because he offered to hang out so BoJack wasn’t alone after his dad died. It adds a layer to their relationship off of such a simple act.
Also, I can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into all the costumes at the parties. There are three people who wear the same costume each year: Princess Carolyn who goes as Amelia Earhart, a roach who wears a Beetlejuice costume, and a moth who goes as a ghost, but eats more of his costume every year, finally finishing it off in 2018. Other fun costumes are dependent on the year. In 1993, there’s a costume of Ellie Sadler from Jurassic Park and a pair as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. In 2004, Jorge Garcia from Lost is dressed as Shrek, there’s a woman as a female version of Cast Away, Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles, three girls as the Plastics from Mean Girls, a Jack Sparrow, and a very untimely costume that’s a Bugs Bunny knock-off wearing a shirt for the movie “Space Jelly.” In 2009, there’s an octopus as Octomom and a cat as Keyboard Cat. In 2018, there’s a maiden from The Handmaid’s Tale and a Wonder Woman outfit. 2004 likely has the most timely references because the Jessica Biel plot is based more on costume jokes.
The best part about the use of the costumes is to remind us that even if we don’t change, the rest of the world does, but not in a meaningful way. Pop culture moves on, but people are people. Some people get older and leave, like Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) from 1993 and some new people come in, like Flip (Rami Malek) in 2018, but the way the party goes is still the same.
Overall, this is a great episode of the show and of television in general.